Another Flawed Arson Conviction.



Dave Mann

Alfredo Guardiola has been in prison for 19 years, convicted of a crime he almost certainly didn’t commit.

Guardiola is the subject of the third story in our series investigating flawed arson cases. The story was posted online late last week (read it here).

Guardiola was convicted of starting a 1989 house fire that killed four people on Houston’s east side. Our six-month investigation into the case shows that Guardiola is likely innocent.

A national expert — Gerald Hurst, who worked on the now-infamous Cameron Todd Willingham case, among many others — reviewed the forensic arson evidence against Guardiola and concluded that the fire was likely accidental.

The science of detecting arson has undergone a revolution the past 15 years. Recent research by fire scientists has disproved many of the old assumptions that fire investigators once thought were indicators of arson — and which were used to send thousands of people to prison or the death chamber, including Guardiola and Willingham.

Guardiola, a 44-year-old heroin addict at the time of the fire, confessed to starting the blaze after 13 hours of interrogation by police and fire investigators. Within days, he recanted the confession and said it had been coerced. Based on our review of court records and the forensic evidence, it seems likely that Guardiola falsely confessed to starting an accidental fire.

He has 20 years remaining on his sentence.

For most of this year, I’ve been examining older, suspect arson convictions. The previous two stories in the series featured the cases of Plano gunshop owner Curtis Severns and of Waco businessman Ed Graf. Both remain in prison.

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Dave Mann is a former editor of the Observer.